Published October 30. 2013 4:00AM
UConn will take its 2013-14 basketball team model out for its first test drive tonight.
It will be interesting to see how the Huskies respond when they drive the floor in their exhibition opener against Southern Connecticut State University. Game time is 7 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion.
"It's always good to play against somebody different," coach Kevin Ollie said Tuesday. "The lights are on, you've got the smell of the popcorn and the fans are in here. It's different than scrimmaging and practicing against each other."
The Huskies return all five starters from a team that went 20-10, but was ineligible for postseason play.
Ollie has two exhibition games to work on his rotation before the season opener against Maryland on Nov. 8 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. UConn plays Concordia in the exhibition finale on Monday in Hartford.
While Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels will play prominent roles once again this season, the competition for playing time will likely be fierce among the other Huskies.
The frontcourt has the biggest question marks.
Senior Tyler Olander is coming off a disappointing season and has dealt with off-the-court issues. Freshmen Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey are promising young players and Phil Nolan hopes to take a giant step forward in his second season.
The quickest way to earn a spot in the rotation and place in Ollie's heart is by rebounding, rebounding and rebounding. Ollie has stressed that point during preseason.
The Huskies were one of the worst rebounding teams in the Big East last season. They don't plan on holding that dubious distinction in the new America Athletic Conference.
Ollie wants UConn to dominate the backboard tonight against a smaller Division II program.
"I need one big man to step up and just separate themselves," Ollie said. "I'd like to have two, three or four of them separate themselves. If not, we'll do it by committee.
"I made it real plain. I simplified it a lot. How to get minutes is to rebound. If I get one of those big guys to stand out and be the rebounder we know they can be, they'll get the majority of the time."
With the addition of some talented freshmen and George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah, a 6-foot-6 swingman, the Huskies will certainly be a deeper team this season. Senior Niels Giffey also will play a valuable leadership role.
Their backcourt stacks up to be as good as any in the country. Freshman Terrance Samuel, a pass-first point guard, is another newcomer to watch.
No matter who is on the court, Ollie expects the Huskies to play with the same heart, energy and competitive spirit as they did last season.
"They better do the same thing," Ollie said. "I can look down that bench and I can bring in some players where hopefully the rhythm doesn't change.
"Practice has been really competitive. Guys are really getting after it. I don't see that changing. And if it does change, I have to adjust as a coach and find somebody that is going to come in and play with that passion that we want. They understand what it takes and the expectations put upon them when they put that jersey on."
Southern Connecticut has nine players from Connecticut on its roster, including top returning scorer Greg Langston, an all-state guard out of St. Joseph's in Trumbull. The Owls went 17-10 overall last season.